Hair, or how this blog post turned out to be longer than I expected. Like my hair.

One of my earliest memories is spurred by a sense of disdain towards my own hair. In kindergarten, I experienced my first crush on another person. To my clumsy sensibilities, he was perfect. I’m not sure what goes on in the head of a four-year old vis a vis attraction, and I definitely don’t want to go that far back down memory lane, but I still remember his name, and I remember being wracked with equal parts guilt and thrill when, in response to what was likely an innocuous comment, he said that my hair was stupid. 

I was doomed from that moment on.

I have always had a lot of hair. My parents used to joke – or maybe it wasn’t a joke – that any wretched fly within a certain radius would be snapped up and trapped in my tight curls. As far as I’ve been small, my hair has been large. For many people, my hair was who I was.

So, of course, when my young beloved told me that my hair was dumb, I set out to destroy it. I’ll spare you the gory details, but after my poor mother woke up from her nap to see a bin full of perfect ringlets, she cried for a really, really long time. Apparently, my uncle, laughing as his wife tried to salvage my hair, said I looked like Ava Gardner. My mother cried harder. 

I started drawing not long after that incident. Despite the fact that my burning love for a fellow kindergartener dwindled without ceremony, I retained my hair-anxiety. In every picture I drew of myelf, I made my hair straight. And that’s not to say that my hair was defined by rakish lines consistent with poor motor functions – it was a conscious effort to make my hair “silky-straight” like so many of the other girls around me. I began seeing my curls as a masculine feature. Pretty girls had straight hair. Any compliments I ever received were condescending in nature; pretty girls never got condescended. (As you can tell, I hadn’t quite had my intersectional feminist awakening yet.) 

As funny as this seems in retrospect, it was also the beginning of a long, difficult battle with self-loathing. The longer I observed my hair, the more I began to notice my face, my blemishes, my thick eyebrows that were not yet en vogue, the slightly crooked bridge of my nose, the baby fat that seemed so much worse than everyone around me – another point of condescending adoration. I started listening to the sound of my own voice and I hated what I heard. But through it all, I begrudged my hair the most. I didn’t necessarily hate it; I could make pigtails that looked, more or less, like Bubbles’ from the Powerpuff Girls, how could you hate that? But it annoyed me because it was silly, it was cute. It was never pretty. I was never pretty.

In my defense, I had just woken up. As a point of horror, I had just woken up.

I grew older. After chopping all my hair off, my curls never grew back quite the same way. The corkscrew ringlets were gone. Now, as if to rub it in, my hair grew in coarse, thick, twisted coils that – and I can’t stress this enough – grew up and out. While, internally, it was pretty empowering to realize my hair was akin to a mythical she-beast that was able to turn men into stone, outwardly, that was a pretty embarrassing image to convey. So, I did my best to turn that embarassment into a thick skin. I cultivated a self-deprecating sense of humor that I convinced myself was sincere until it actually became so. (Occasionally, that sense of humor has backfired on me in the form of some pretty heinous, one-sided relationships, but for the most part, I’ve learnt to own it.)

Things were worse when my family moved to Dubai. It was a different landscape, and more diversity meant more ways you could be pretty: I wasn’t pretty any of those ways. As a kid going through puberty, I got two things: my period and breasts. Like, larger breasts than a girl my height should have had. What I didn’t get was a more graceful face, or an opportunity to shed some of the baby fat. So I was pudgy. And, as someone would eventually put it, I had “gigantic jugs” at 13. My hair was still massive. The side-fringe trend swept my high school, and deciding that this could be a fix for my hair woes, I decided to steal my mother’s flat iron and began straightening just one, thick lock of my hair. It flopped disappointingly down the side of my face, but I was proud of it (I had no right to be).

At some point in high school, I decided that the solution to all my hair problems was to chop it off. So, I had my shoulder-length hair shorn up to my chin, and was pleased with the stylish bob I was given (I had no right to be). Unfortunately, the blow-dry wore off, and my hair blossomed into a majestic mushroom cloud that, you guessed it, went upwards. Luckily, the one solid my hair has always done me is that it grows extremely quickly – which means body hair is a misery – and when my hair got a bit longer-

Well, I’m not sure what happened here. Maybe God took pity on me and decided that I could use some help. Maybe it was the estrogen in my birth control pills*. But I turned 16, and the hallowed period of my life that I have christened Second Puberty took place. 

I had recently discovered Instagram, as evidenced by the intense filter. Note the hat. Note the weak eyeliner.

Slowly, but steadily, the baby fat finally started dropping. My body suddenly evened out and while I became increasingly more top-heavy than my frame could necessarily handle, I was an actual shape. As problematic as that body-shaming mentality is, I stopped hating myself as much. I thought I was actually kind of pretty. And, most importantly, the sheer weight of my hair started weighing it down. It grew outwards, still, but not upwards. 

I felt a renaissance dawning.

Suddenly, I could talk to pretty people and feel like I was holding my own. I patted my hair to make sure it was still in place. I would adorn my hair with barettes, hats (so many freaking hats), even fascinators. All I was missing was a dress just below the knees and an ascot, and I could have been off to the races!

Of course, it was’t that easy. I still spent an unfortunate amount of nights wracked with horror at my face. The shape of my body lent itself to an anxiety of its own, one that culminated in me flinging clothes across the fitting moon at Forever 21 or whatever unfortunate store I shopped at. Few clothes could accommodate petite with a side of curvy. I felt, still, despite the renaissance, not as pretty as the status quo. But at least my hair was the least of my problems. 

Weirdly enough, that was the best thing that could have happened to me. My ambivalence towards my hair was an opportunity to let it do what it wanted to do. My hair grew longer with each passing year, and the only real dramatic change it went through was two instances of pink ombre – a childhood and, well, adulthood wish that I wanted to fulfill, and I loved it so much that I did it a second time. The only real difference in my routine was that I started caring for my hair a little more. No heat, no dying after that second time, and occasionally, a bit of argan oil. My hair appreciated this, evidently.

Here’s the thing. At some point, I realized how long my hair had gotten, and I freaked out a little. I let my hair grow out since that misguided bob, but I always just assumed my hair was short no matter what length it had gotten to. Eventually after the first couple of nights that I spent accidentally pulling my hair so hard while asleep that I woke up, I had to contend with this new reality: my hair was actually, truly, fashionably long.

Featuring Sabrina, who has seen me through all phases of my hair.

And it was curly. It was curlier, truly curlier, than it had been since I lopped off my ringlets in the name of love. I was awed by this new power – power? – that I held upon my head. I could braid it, I could put it up, I could even leave it down and it wouldn’t go everywhere! And if it did, well, apparently that’s stylish! People started asking to play with my hair – not with a fever-pitch, as if frenzied by the thought of taming the beast with a flat-iron and some mousse, but because they wanted to admire it. Like an art installation, it held people in its thrall, and not even in a literal sense like with those poor flies when I was a baby! It was, and still is, an awesome feeling.

So, of course, being the superstitious South Asian that I am, I grew afraid of my hair.

If there’s one thing I’m never going to deny about my heritage, it’s that the fear of the evil eye is a valid one. Too much praise, especially masking envy, is a huge no-no. Say Mashallah, I often think at people, locking my jaw and straining to project fear-of-God unto my unassuming companion. I try to humble myself every time I have too much of a good hair day. Okay, but you forgot to go to the gym, and you said you were going to, so really, what gives you the right? One well-placed, strategic barb later, and I feel safe from the evil eye. 

Anytime my hair sheds, and it sheds quite a lot, a fleeting panic makes its way through my bones. The beginning of female pattern baldness! Or hell, male-pattern baldness, what does it matter! I have to be careful about how I bind my hair at night or I’ll wake up from the sharp pain and shame of having had my hair try to commit seppuku under my elbow. At this point, I’m a little afraid that I’ll wake up with my braid coiled tight around my neck, like a particularly fuzzy, tresEMME-scented boa constrictor.

If Second Puberty was a renaissance, this is, like, baroque. Extravagant, filled with religious paranoia, and distinctly impractical. But damn it if baroque isn’t my second favorite period of art. For all that I’m afraid of it and guard it kind of jealously against the ill-wishes of the ill-intentioned, and against my own pride, I love my hair because it’s an indication of how far I’ve come . I’ve come from having cut my hair at the behest of my first love to proudly, and then apologetically, whipping it against the faces of people I love. 

A huge part of me wants to donate my hair before I move to the Netherlands for my last co-op. It feels right, to pay forward the lessons I have learnt and amassed in each lock of my hair. Besides, I’m kind of curious to see how my head feels 10-inches lighter. 

And, well, if my hair starts growing up and out again, I can wrangle it into place with hair smoothies and argan oil. Plus, that’s 10 fewer inches to be paranoid about. It’s a win-win. 

*don’t even start with me, I needed to stop missing school because my periods were that bad

DAMN., Goddamn.

At some point I need to admit to myself that there are so many articles about music I can get published before people start getting annoyed at me. I’m no music critic; I’m not even an upstart music industry/related field major – I’m just an upstart politics student whose entire conception of life is framed by art.

Within 12 hours of To Pimp a Butterfly being released, I had the skeleton of an article ready. Who didn’t? There was so much to analyze, so much to deconstruct, so much to contextualize. With Kendrick Lamar’s latest release, DAMN., it’s different. It’s the kind of album you mull over for hours, listening and re-listening – and that’s not to say TPAB wasn’t that way. I still realize new things about it every time I do a full-album re-listen. But with DAMN., I don’t even know where to begin.

Actually, I do: we’ve been blessed.

Kendrick Lamar is the kind of artist who has every right to disappear after one album, let alone after (give or take – but, well, mostly give) four absolutely stellar pieces of art. He could have been a one-hit wonder and we still wouldn’t have been worthy. And that’s not out of some weird celebrity-worship; he is the absolute cream of the introspective-music crop. With each album, we are given a window into the mind of an artist, watching an author write their treatise, their magnum opus right in front of us.

Every time I go to a museum, I try to stop by the conservation galleries so I can catch a glimpse of conservators working on restoring art. I have yet to be successful in catching a restoration in progress. Still, I like to read every thing; I like to look at the tools, touch all the interactive aspects of the exhibit, try to envision what it must be like to be a conservator entrusted with handling – fixing – works of art. What an absolute honor – and what an honor to be able to witness that, right?

With DAMN., I feel like I’ve finally been able to catch a conservator in action. Hell, I feel like I’m watching Langston Hughes whisper the words of a nascent poem aloud to himself to see if it sounds right. And maybe that’s dramatic, but as a poet that uses her medium to strip herself completely raw, regarding DAMN. is both somber and exhilarating. But what is it about DAMN. that makes it the prime artistry that it is?

It was hard to anticipate how Kendrick would follow up TPAB, an album so intensely political that it leaves you feeling exhausted when you’re done with it; an album so intensely political that one of its singles became the anthem for an entire anti-oppression movement. That was the power of TPAB. But DAMN. didn’t need to be a manifesto – frankly, it didn’t need to be anything. But what it became was the breathless musing of a man coming down from a protest high: slumping down into your favorite couch, the feeling of taking your shoes off after a long day, the – well – depression and malaise after you’ve emptied every reserve of your adrenaline.

Introspection. That’s what follows. As a friend noted, DAMN. is a return to Section.80, a contemplation of self, and the role of self. Kendrick positioned himself to be a messiah of sorts in To Pimp a Butterfly, but in the life of every prophet, there is a moment of doubt; a falter, a question of “Is god actually there? Do I matter? Will anyone ever stand with me?”

We caught glimpses of that in TPAB, and certainly in good kid, m.A.A.d. city, but DAMN. tackles these questions in renderings not unlike “u” or “Swimming Pools” – especially the latter with its misleadingly party-friendly vibe. I firmly believe that if you go into a Kendrick Lamar song without heavily considering that he might be talking to himself, about himself, then you have no business having an opinion about his music. Damning (hah)? Sure. But this is a rapper that means so much in today’s politically charged climate that to access him is a privilege, and we at least owe him, and ourselves, the ability to understand where he’s coming from.

“Ain’t nobody praying for me,” he declares repeatedly, and the bravado gives way to anxiety as a motif throughout the album. Kendrick Lamar has struggled with depression throughout his life, not unlike Chance the Rapper, and both young stars have been extremely public with this fact, using music as a conduit for introspection and even extrospection. The songs in this album are so raw, pained, desperately hopeful and desperately despondent at the same time. He tries to hold the world accountable, but invariably turns back at least some accountability onto himself. There are specific times in the album (the bridge in ELEMENT., the entirety of FEEL. – especially 2:50 – the intro to PRIDE., the tail-end of FEAR.) where I want to drop every thing and cry because it hits home so hard that I need it to bruise, to be sore, so that it can linger and I can remember how I felt when I first listened to DAMN. for the rest of my life.

For an otherwise not very good class, I read literary giant Chinua Achebe’s novel Anthills of the Savannah. I had read Things Fall Apart quite a few years ago, so I knew the kind of author Achebe was and I was rightfully excited about this one. It was situated in a much more contemporary context, and unfortunately, the novel ages pretty damn well. For the corresponding essay, we had to pick our favorite passage, and mine was the following:

“Do I contradict myself?” asked Walt Whitman. “Very well, I contradict myself,” he sang defiantly. “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Every artist contains multitudes. Graham Greene is a Roman Catholic, a partisan of Rome, if you like. Why then does he write so compulsively about bad, doubtful and doubting priests? Because a genuine artist, no matter what he says he believes, must feel in his blood the ultimate enmity between art and orthodoxy […] Those who would see no blot of villainy in the beloved oppressed nor grant the faintest glimmer of humanity to the hated oppressor are partisans, patriots and party-liners.

Every artist contains multitudes. It felt incredibly timely that right after reading this novel, DAMNdropped in all of its glory, in all of its contradictions: in all of its multitudes. Kendrick Lamar is that partisan of Rome; he is that genuine artist; he is myriad and beyond. I aim to memorize that quote so I can remember the lesson inherent in it: not only is to err to be human, but to contradict oneself is to be human; to be multitudinous is to be human. What other species could carry such capacity for horror, and such unmatched capacity for beauty?

Blessed.

And maybe that’s a funny thing to say when Kendrick Lamar struggles with the concept of being blessed, or not, but regardless of whether he feels like he is god-sent, god-sped, he is for me.

There are not enough words in the world to discuss all the facets of this album that I want to. I have a feeling I will be coming back to this a lot.

Until then – I’m waiting for Sunday.

My internal politics of dress

Of the many good qualities imbued in me by my father, one of my favorite ones is the love for fashion he inspired in me. I loved fashion even before my appearance reflected it, to the point that I seriously considered studying Political Science at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, because, “Can you imagine how perfect studying politics surrounding by fashion designers would be?!”

It behooves me to mention here that at this aforementioned point in my life, I also dreamt of being married and pregnant by  grad school. 1) I was so, so wrong, and 2) if any one tells my paternal grandmother this, I’m not above committing an imprisonable offense. She’s already waiting for me to get married as is, and I refuse to add fuel to the fire (read: her co-opting of my brother’s marriage in order to orchestrate mine).

Anyway. My father has always been an impeccably well-dressed man, for as long as I can remember. Most profoundly for me, my father dressed well even when circumstances allowed him – or at least excused him – to dress down. His father’s death, family problems, personal health: he was immaculate in every carefully ironed pleat. And this is not to say my mother isn’t beautiful herself. Each day begins with carefully choosing lipstick and applying the eyeliner-kajal combo that always rims her eyes. She too is immaculate in her signature sunglasses and every perfect wave of her hair.

We are not wealthy. The stereotype associated with how my family presents itself begets the image of a privileged international student from a privileged international family with no conception of financial troubles or the weight of loans. I beg your suspension of disbelief, and remind you that this is part and parcel of my love of and appreciation for my parents’ image.

I think I was in a crappy mood one day, sulking in that uniquely teenage way, when my mother told me to get up, take a shower, and put on my favorite clothes. She said it’s what she does when she wants to feel better than she is. So  I tried it. I never stopped.

Puberty took me for a wild ride and I hid it all under absurd ponchos I re-wore way too much. Needless to say, it took me a few years to figure out my style, but I did, and now unless I’m really, really, horrendously late for something, I need to have a full face of make up on. Sure, there’s a lot there to unpack regarding my own well-documented struggles with self-loathing, but dressing up is my time as much as reading, writing, drawing are.

As long as I’m dressed the part, I can play the part I need to play – I can be the human being I need to be. No matter the internal state of my mind, I know I can at least look put together, and if I can look it, I can feel it. Is it superficial? Well, yes and no. But I put a lot of myself in every outfit I wear. Every day I try to wear something from Pakistan, or an outfit that has a history; maybe I’ll remember that my father told me I looked beautiful in a specific dress; maybe someone will compliment me on my jewelry and I’ll say “It was my mother’s;” maybe I’ll wear bright blues and pinks and know I’m representing Pakistan in every stitch of my koti or kameez.

And, as ever with my blog posts, here’s where the self-critique comes in: am I misrepresenting who I am?

I’m an international student, and that’s reflected most keenly in the 100% tuition I have to pay to stay in college. Thing is, that tuition is carefully and nervously spaced out in a way that doesn’t bankrupt my family. Loans have been taken out – very painful, very large loans I will add – co-ops have been strategically placed, part-time jobs have been taken on, just so I can get a degree. That I’ll have to strengthen with another degree.

It’s hard not to be despondent and wonder if this was all worth it. Retrospect is 20/20: no one could have seen the sudden financial hardship that befell my family, least of all an 18-year-old that was as giddy and excited as I was to go to Boston and (without exaggeration) follow my dreams. My education is as much an opportunity as it is my cross to bear, and I bear it every single day as surely as I have a lick of concealer under my eyes on any given day. And it’s hard to admit this to myself because I feel like I’m breaking a taboo by doing it.

I fidget uncomfortably in my heavy, Pakistani earrings and bright lipstick. What do people think when they see me? More importantly, what do they think when they hear me speak and the soft but evident accept slips out, some days more than others?

Do I look like just another rich international student?

And that bothers me more than it should. It doesn’t matter, it shouldn’t matter, because I know what I am and what I’m not. I’m the sum of my parents’ faith in me and their endless, hard work. I’m the sum of my stubbornness and my own hard work.

But what do I look like? Who do I look like?

I suppose the reason this is bothering me more than it usually does is because I’ve had to deal with a lot of ups and downs on my way to my dream co-op. The first one, unavoidable, was the visa issue – I had every thing in the bag, minus the bit where I couldn’t get a visa in time. So, I took out a loan to stay in school, readjusted my co-op cycle to the Fall instead of the Spring, and took a deep breath. In that order. And then I decided, you know what? I’m going to fund this co-op myself. Yeah, I’ll pay for the flights, the rent, everything! So I got a job on campus (which is not necessarily as reliable as I thought, but at least it’ll take care of grocery money?) and put my heart into applying for a scholarship to fund my co-op. I was guaranteed some money, up to $6000, and I was going to get that! Or at least $4000!

For a little while, I felt good. The whole Trump thing tripped me up quite a bit, and I didn’t (and don’t) know what the future holds regarding the Muslim ban, but at least co-op was certain?

So imagine my feelings when I got my scholarship back and realized I had been awarded a generous $2000 for my pain.

The worst part is, I was so resigned to being tripped up that I didn’t even have it in me to cry all that much. I set about emailing who I could to try and appeal it. It took me 3 weeks to see if I could appeal this, and I hid the fact from my mom for as long as I could. I know my parents, and I know their love for me, and I was assured that it would work out if they had any say in it.

I’m going to fund this co-op myself.

I started looking for another job. I talked to my future co-op employers about worst case scenarios. I started working on research proposals that I could use to supplement my living expenses while in the Netherlands. And I finally, finally got some kind of an answer about why my scholarship was so low despite the fact that I literally begged for enough money to keep me self-sufficient.

Remember that loan I took out? I got enough money so that I could fund this current Spring semester and the subsequent Summer semester, which I needed in order to graduate on time. The Spring loan was disbursed to Northeastern while the latter stayed in my account until it too needed to be disbursed. So, I have a tantalizing amount sitting in my student account that will go untouched until the Summer semester.

The person working on disbursing the loans assumed that very substantial amount was for my own recreation, and that clearly, my request for more money than the 2k I’d gotten was perplexing. Clearly, I could fund my co-op with a sum of money that is literally, cent for cent, the tuition cost for a Summer semester.

I can’t begin to describe my anger.

If I was an American student, that assumption would have never been made. I’m an international student, and therefore, it’s a 9/10 chance that I’m probably really wealthy. At the very least, wealthy enough to have multiple digits in my Northeastern University student account just sitting there for my recreation.

Take a look at my actual bank account and you’ll know that’s very clearly not the case.

My family has given an unjust amount of money to Northeastern, most of the time money that I’m still not sure how they managed to come up with. There were never any questions asked, but this time, I’m adamant about asking questions and I don’t like the kinds of answers I’ve been getting. I also really don’t like that it’s making me double-guess how I present myself. The person allocating scholarship money does not know what I look like, so why do my earrings feel heavier?

I think I’ve been tripped up so much over the past couple of years that I’m double, triple, quadruple-guessing who I am and who I’ve become as a person. It feels melodramatic, and maybe it is. But I’m tired of feeling like I’m constantly short-changed through little to no fault of my own, and I’ll have you know that I am very, very good at admitting when something is actually my fault.

This was hard to write, which means it’s important that I write it for some reason. All I know is, I’m working hard to remedy what seems to be a string of bad luck. I hope that will be enough to make me feel comfortable in my own clothes again.

The day of and those after

The thing about bombings and terrorist attacks is that, after a little while, it’s too easy to divorce an atrocity from the monotony of the day. The horror sits heavy on your skin like a too-thick cocoa-butter moisturizer, and it’s hard to let it sink in. But, with enough time and distraction, you get used to the weight.

That happened to me just this past weekend at the International Model NATO Conference where I was representing my university. After an overnight, nine-hour train ride from Boston to DC, I found myself sleepless and exhausted in a hotel room. I heard the news right as I lay down to take a power nap.

The power nap was my first mistake. I’ve never taken a good, worthwhile power nap in my life and certainly, this one was doomed the second I decided to scroll down my Twitter timeline. I follow a lot of Pakistani political and social commentators, and what was marked about that day was the despondency and profound sadness and exhaustion writ bare in those 140 or however many characters.

I’m not unused to being able to interpret that language. It usually means something Bad happened.

Heart-pounding, I went to Dawn, and sure enough, a massive explosion had torn through the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine. The number of lives taken and the name of the shrine took a second to hit me.

O lal meri pat rakhio bhala Jhulelalan

Sindhri da

Sehwan da

Sakhi Shahbaz Qalandar

Ah. Right.

Here’s the thing about Pakistanis. You can tack any Muslim label on us that you want but in our hearts, our absolute heart of hearts, we are all undeniably Sufis. We tear up listening to qawwaliyaan, we have a ferocious love for our musicians and artists, we revere poetry and dance and love itself. No matter what front the Fundos try to show you, their hearts will melt like everyone else’s over Sabri and Abida Parveen and Nusrat and Rahat.

This was a betrayal of the deepest kind. This was a betrayal of our culture, our history, our loves and lives throughout centuries of existence; more than that, it was a betrayal of 75 lives, men-women-children, who came to revel in our culture, our histories, our loves and lives throughout centuries of existence. It’s the kind of betrayal that can’t be forgiven.

We’ve all grown up listening to Dama Dam Mast Qalandar. Before I even knew all the lyrics I had an emotional connection to the qawwali. There was a visceral joy in its singing, the clapping that came along it, the family concerts that would surround the words, the often-subsequent marriage that it was contextualized in. It was important and it was necessary.

Pakistanis are used to being betrayed. Sometimes by our government, sometimes by ourselves, sometimes by the world. Music is almost a coping mechanism to that end. In troubled times, our music and art industries blossom angrily. Defiant international literary festivals, antagonistic and triumphant rock bands, scathing indie, the fusion genre that has become part and parcel of what it means to be a musician in early 21st Century South Asia, performing arts festivals – but you take that away from us and you get the wrath of a country that is simmering with rage and years’ worth of inconsolable sadness.

Our wrath is in coming back to the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine the very next day and ringing the morning bells. It’s in devotees arriving proudly to carry out their prayers. It’s in the dhamaals that continued despite the bombing. Daesh in Khorasan would not have this cultural victory over us.

**

Despite this tumult of emotion, I went about my day. Embassy visits, opening ceremonies, falling asleep on my own feet, I went about my day. A friend asked me if I was okay. A single friend. But that’s neither here nor there.

Eventually, thoughts of the massacre were shipped off to the backburner of my mind, unaddressed and unprocessed. A weekend followed where I pretended to be an official from a country that did not belong to me; a conference where the organizers take gleeful joy in faking crises that are often as absurd as they are horrendous; a conference where I spent more time thinking about fake dead people than I did about my very real, very dead fellow countrymen.

I trucked on. I did my best. I pushed away the creeping horror and self-awareness because I was there as part of a team. Eventually, once the bulk of my responsibility was carried out with skill and maybe some degree of reckless bravado, I found myself sitting on the floor of our hotel bathroom, crying. My roommates eventually found me and I said what I didn’t have it in me to say before: “75 people died in my country, 13 in my hometown, and I’m here, pretending I don’t give a shit about that.”

As terrible as it sounds, I needed the breakdown. I couldn’t process my grief without it. The day-to-day compartmentalization catches up to you at some point and I’m honestly lucky it happened sooner rather than later. Grief, bottled up, is more destructive than any display of anger. I was able to process the pain without too much collateral (see also: yelling at people who may or may not have deserved it) and I’m glad for that. Of course I was – I am – still sad, but I’m sad in the way that is tucked in your heart along with all the warmth and love you hold for your people. It’s the sadness that has lived like a constant ode to Pakistan from the day I realized I was one of 180 million people and a then-some diaspora. It’s the sadness that is inherent in our national anthem. It’s what makes me Pakistani for more than just my overseas citizen ID and passport.

**

I’ve been afraid of waking up lately, for fear of news that will hurt me. It’s the curse of living in Trump’s America as a non-resident alien (the fear of being put on a travel ban, namely) as well as the general sense of malaise I’ve had since this awful year began.

Evidently, I woke up this morning. I should have put it off.

I’m never prepared to see Lahore in the news. I was even less prepared to see Defence in the news, the neighborhood I was raised in. My family and I moved to Lahore when I was about two-years-old, and my earliest memories are of my beautiful house, my mamma’s marigolds, and the jaamun tree I was too afraid and bookish to climb. The bombing happened in the popular commercial area I had basically all my birthdays in and around. Not a week went by where we didn’t go shopping there, whether for groceries, or clothes, or pirated CDs. All my eid money was spent in those bookstores and toy-shops. My brother is in Lahore right now and the area is one of his haunts – I haven’t felt that sense of panicked “where-is-he-where-was-he” in years. The rush of nostalgia felt like bile in my throat.

And look – it’s 10:30am. I’ve been awake, in bed, trying to process for the past hour. I have an exam I’ve given up caring about in another hour, and a class after that. Invariably, I will forget about Lahore – about Y-block and Defence – and wonder why I’m so sad. Invariably, it will hit me when I least expect it and I’ll probably end up crying on someone’s couch or in a bathroom somewhere. Invariably, it will happen again.

This isn’t my first rodeo. But somewhere in the stubborn dancing, showing up to class despite my better judgment, and even in my forgetful laughter, there is resistance.

At least, I hope there is.

O lal meri, o lal meri

On discipline, or how I’m learning to stop self-flagellating

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I started bullet journaling over winter break. It has been one of the better decisions I have made in the past few years, and I’ve seen the direct results of embarking on this organizational journey in my day-to-day life. I’m less anxious, more organized, I remember both short-term and long-term goals; the act of putting together my bullet journal spreads is something that soothes me immensely. I use my bullet journal to track my habits (badly), my spending (mostly retroactively), the books I read (which is awesome!), my research ideas (also incredibly useful) and to chart my goals for the coming year and how far I’ve gotten in attaining them. Part and parcel of this was deciding what I wanted the defining theme of this year to be – not a resolution (I would most definitely break that out of sheer defiance) but a broad theme under which I would operate myself.

I chose discipline and creation. Creation because that has always been a part of who I am, and discipline because I need it in order to keep at my creations. I was proud of this. I felt like “discipline” would capitalize on the momentum I had garnered the semester before – my long-awaited 4.0 semester where everything would finally fall into place and where I wouldn’t let set-backs hurt my grades. Neiha today is a far-cry from the girl who loudly proclaimed in high school that grades aren’t more important than extra-curricular activities and what you do (or the girl who wanted to be pregnant and married by the time she got to grad school, which now makes me feel crippling terror but that’s neither here nor there).

…I mean, I still believe that. I just don’t really have the luxury of functioning under that one-sided dichotomy.

I have always tried to be a good daughter. I never gave my parents any trouble, I never fought them on things, I accepted the curfews and the modi operandi of the Lasharie household knowing that once I went to college, I would need to nurture my responsibility. And I did. I stayed out late, but I always got home safe or made sure I had a couch to sleep on somewhere I was comfortable. I traveled, knowing I was responsible for my own well-being and itineraries. My parents were always okay with this, with only the occasional “Be safe!”

I did my laundry, I minimized eating out, I budgeted my spending, I filed my taxes, I looked into my credit, I applied for loans when I had to, looked at scholarships without much of a result, funded my own therapy, applied for jobs – both co-op and part-time – just so that the end result was that I could be less of a burden on my parents.

The unopened monthly billing statements are why.

My parents have told me they don’t care about my grades. They want me to be successful and happy in my ambition. But my grades are a way to prove something – “Look! Your investment is paying off!”

It wasn’t that my 4.0 was why my parents were so proud of me this past semester. It was because that 4.0 included an A in math, a subject I’ve struggled with so much that it became a family joke. We measure my success by looking at the things I struggle with and seeing to what extent I can overcome them.

We.

I, on the other hand, being the loathsome and self-minimizing person that I am, measure my failure by looking at everything I have wanted to do but haven’t done. I have so many personal projects that I want to do, ideas I have conceived, research I want to undertake, plans I want to execute – but there’s always, always something stopping that. And yes, I know that rationally, I can’t do everything I want. And that rationally, not a big deal. I just need to discipline myself and then I can assess the extent to which all my projects can come into fruition.

But it feels like everything I want to do is being done better, faster, by other people; my peers at that. Or it feels like I’m not qualified to do the things I want to, and pretending otherwise is irresponsible. This blog is an example of the former. I’ve had this WordPress since – god, tenth grade? It’s been 7 years or so, and I still don’t have a format set up; I don’t have a reliable uploading schedule, and I don’t really have a theme apart from occasionally off-loading my opinions or existential crises. Hell, I’ve been playing with the idea of buying the domain name since Freshman year of college and I haven’t gotten around to doing that.

As ever, my conclusion is that I’m too hard on myself. But for every excuse, no matter how reasonable and justified, I have to wonder – will there ever be a perfect time where I can give justice to all my projects?

Probably not.

So I guess here’s a second conclusion: there is a time for everything. It will suck, and I will most definitely get bogged down by my own deficiencies, but if my goals right now are to a) give my parents a return on their investment, b) be financially independent, c) keep my mental state from fraying (again) and keep my PTSD at bay (yikes); and d) pave a way to an actionable future, then I guess I need to give this current zeitgeist of my life its due.

I’m always bitching about how it is part of the postmodern condition to reflect back on all of humanity and wonder why we don’t have a defining array of characteristics for our time, but isn’t that exactly what I’m doing? I’m experiencing the postmodern condition in the microcosm of my own life.

That’s dumb. Instead, well, I guess I’m going to try and celebrate what I am able to do by doing it to the best of my ability. Here’s to another 4.0 semester, good mental health, financial stability, and continued poems and research endeavors. The Speakeasy Symposium, personal branding and such will have to wait until I’m ready. And that’s okay.

I have an ambition complex 

I love people. I really do. For better or for worse, I’m friends with a lot of incredible human beings who do wonderful things and I love delighting in their accomplishments. I don’t think I would ever wish anyone ill in regards to their careers or hopes and dreams. 

But I need to confront the fact that I let other people’s accomplishments make me think that I’m not doing enough in my own life. 

I have an ambition complex. I have too many things I want to do, and not enough hours of the day. And that list of ambitions has literally no end, because every time I see someone else doing something cool, some weird switch gets turned on in my head and I go, “I can do that too.”

Maybe it isn’t an ambition complex, maybe it’s ambition envy. And maybe I’m a terrible person for internalizing other people’s capacities for brilliance and comparing them to what seems to be a meager little list of my own accomplishments. But somewhere between starry eyed, 11 year old Neiha deciding she was going to be the UN Secretary General and being the high-strung, constantly anxious overachieving 21 year old I am now, I started hating myself. And as I’m sure I’ve mentioned several times before on this blog, self-loathing and ambition do not a healthy smoothie make. 

I want to blame something for this. A week or so ago, talking to my roommate about this very issue, I used the term “commodifying success.” It was a good term. Very clinical. Très académique. Mais, it completely ignored my own insecurities in favor of coming up with a metanarrative to explain away my issues. 

Why am I never satisfied with myself? 

If you’ve seen or listened to Hamilton, you know that iconic moment in Aaron Burr, Sir, where Hamilton describing the Princeton bursor says, “He looked at me like I was stupid, I’m not stupid”? 

That’s been my issue my entire life. I will never be content until I stop believing people think I’m stupid. Every time I feel like I deserve to feel intelligent, I immediately lambast myself for my arrogance. I’ve been arrogant before, I refuse to be arrogant again, and in my very PTSD-addled mind the best way to fight arrogance is to viciously hate yourself. 

I had a breakdown in the middle of the library quad last week because I felt like I was the most unintelligent human in the world. Because somehow, needing to take on student loans made me a failure. Because not being able to complete two majors, two concentrations and a minor within 8 semesters means I’m an idiot. Because there are people who are much better than I am, so who am I to think I’m smart when I play a couple hours of Civ 5 sometimes to relax? 

I can’t just be good, I need to be fucking brilliant. And that wouldn’t be an issue if I knew where brilliance lay. Is brilliance burning out by 23 because you nearly killed yourself with anxiety over whether or not you were enough? 

I don’t know. It sounds romantic enough to be brilliant. 

 I’m not sure if I’ll ever be enough for myself. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to look around a room and think “Wow, I’m one of these really smart, cool people.” I don’t know if my to-do list will ever end. There is so much I want to do. There are so many people I want to be. And my life is so short and bookended with mental strife that a day of calm like today feels a betrayal to my parents when it was every thing I needed. 

I have an ambition complex. I also have a self-loathing complex. 

At least I fit the tragic poet bill really well. 

Note: this is not proof read yet. 

Dormant anger in the postmodern era and a music review

There are days – more realistically, nights – where I’m so overcome by my own sudden, built-up anger that I don’t know what to do with myself. It’ll come entirely out of left-field, usually while I’m working, maybe triggered by a lyric in a song or something I read. Right now I’m reading about the Security Council’s action after the Syrian Civil War began and how its major weapon – language, in the form of resolutions – began to encompass addressing radicalization as a global concern. This coincided nicely with a closer listening of Everything Everything’s 2015 album Get to Heaven and this song in particular.

The entire album is a “love” letter to the general alienation the postmodern world perpetuates, especially with an eye to British politics (note that this album dropped before Brexit was a thing; very prescient), radicalization and the rise of ISIS, and just general daily disenfranchisement juxtaposed with the notion of being humans that have inexplicably set their own trajectory for a perverse evolution.

**

I found out one of my oldest and most loved friends has cancer. The last time I found out a friend had cancer was two weeks after she died.

**

I’m trying hard to get a co-op in the Hague with a bureau that works with human trafficking and sexual violence against children. It feels fitting recompense for all the bullshit I’ve had to stomach and read about over my life. Besides, it’s the Hague and it has to do with international law and global governance. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted.

**

My friend starts chemo the same day I have my second and final interview with the above bureau.

**

I have been trying to work through a lot of the anger I’ve felt especially as a byproduct of learning too much and not being able to do enough. Writing poetry helps. Working on research for my Speakeasy Symposium helps. Actually studying and being organized helps.

But somewhere in the cockles of my otherwise warm heart is a too-hot coal that suddenly cracks violently. And when that coal cracks, I become cognizant that there is an angry, angry Pakistani that aches to rail against the system and scream her discontent. And I’m relatively privileged and lucky, so what does that say about the rest of my 180 million-odd compatriots? What does that say about the millions of Americans living under the thumb of an institution that hates them? What does that say about people being, on the one hand, constantly bombarded, and on the other, constantly instrumentalized by the same people bombarding them for liberal humanitarian points?

And where does that put my good-will and desire to be a diplomat/arbitrator if I’m still pretending that I’m not always really fucking angry (sorry mamma and dadda)?

When I  was studying sociology in high school I didn’t understand postmodernists all that much. All that talk of meta-narratives while painting their own meta-narrative seemed absolutely absurd to me, and I really enjoyed taking that “redundancy” down in my essays. But now? Actually living the postmodern? I think I get it.

Humanity has a long and storied and sometimes really shitty history. We have been through a lot to get to the point we’re at right now. But here’s what’s different about then and now:

We can actually look back at a good chunk of our past. We have painstakingly categorized and subcategorized the movements, zeitgeists, music, politics, craftsmanship, technology, literature, art of our past and after we got to the modern, we were stumped.

What does knowing what’s come before make us now? What does it mean when we have access to more information than we have ever had access to in the history of mankind?

It means a great deal of disillusionment. It means a lot of arguments about whether or not we have any freewill. It means a lot of nights being crippled by how much the world is. We have applied so much theory to our past that we start seeing ourselves within a framework and the effect is terrifying. We cope by meme-ification. By taking the mundane and making it absurd, we give something a universal yet temporary meaning; we make it our momentary zeitgeist, but what happens when your zeitgeist are fickle and somewhat superficial?

What happens when your zeitgeist is situated in the theatre of the absurd and someone else’s is steeped in tragedy and exploitation?

I don’t have an answer for this. All these questions aside, we’re still flawed and humans and in a hundred years they’ll have a category for us too. That’s comforting. We still make beautiful art and music and literature. We still have fascinating and infuriating politics. We still fight wars and make love, sometimes with the same hand. But to contemplate us is to stoke the anger.

Is this an anger that characterizes our time? Is this the anger of someone from a country that has Seen Some Shit?

Whose anger do I nurse in my breast, and why does she erupt when I am at my most desperate and helpless?

I am afraid.